Disaster Planning for Lawyers: Safeguard Your Files

You're special. You've got that weird light around you that lets everyone know that nothing bad is ever going to happen to you. That's why you've never given any thought to protecting your law practice against a natural or man-made disaster. That kind of thing only happens to other people.

Or maybe you have a nagging suspicion that your law practice is not permanently immune from random bad fortune--a prolonged power outage, a flood from a broken sprinkler, an office burglary--to say nothing of the disasters of biblical proportion: earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. In addition to buying property insurance, you take a little bit of time for preventative planning so you don't compound the disaster. An essential part of this planning is understanding what steps to take to safeguard client files and other important office records.

Identify the Vital Records

Begin by identifying the documents that need to be preserved. If you've developed a written business continuity plan, with or without orders of succession and delegations of authority to perform key functions, you'll want that handy. Then think about the other records you'll need specifically for the continuation of essential processes. These would include your docket/calendar and current client's files, with information for contacting clients and important external vendors, as well as the courts, tribunals, and agencies with which you deal. Also important are the documents necessary to maintain the legal and financial rights of your firm and employees. These would include accounts receivable, insurance records, and personnel files.

Protective Actions

To protect the records you've identified as vital to the continued essential functions of your office, you'll need to develop and implement a policy for the regular backup and retention of electronic and hard copy records. For records that only exist on paper, this may involve scanning and electronic storage, or it may involve making copies and storing them offsite. Electronic data duplication and storage in the "cloud" is now a relatively simple affair, or you might prefer backing up to tape or other tangible storage media. If you don't want to deal with this yourself, there are numerous companies offering electronic data storage solutions.

How Far Away Is Offsite?

A recent survey found that 48 percent of businesses store their backups onsite. This is not going to help in the case of most disasters. Offsite paper storage, or storage of physical backup media, should be sufficiently far away from any destructive force that could affect the onsite originals. Balance this against the time it will take to retrieve far-away documents in the event of a disaster. If you're using cloud storage, be aware of where your data is actually residing. Ideally you want it to be far enough away so that it's on a different electrical grid. The good news is that many cloud services secure data in more than one location for their own protection, as well as yours.

Periodic Dress Rehearsals

You've got your disaster recovery plan in place--congratulations. But how well is it going to work? You should regularly check data recovery measures to make sure you won't be let down in your time of need. You might identify problems or weaknesses in the recovery measures, and fix them before they turn into a real problem.